“Self care is really important in tough times, but I think we often get the self care wrong. We think it’s only about a nice bubble bath or a glass of wine alone, but the research shows that effective self care often looks a lot more like community care.” — Laurie Santos, PhD
The importance of friends and community is often omitted from discussions about self care, but apparently that’s changing. According to Well+Good, a website devoted to wellness, these troubled times of pandemic, hate-politics, and reckoning with our history of systemic racism have increased our need for reaching out to others for mutual support.
Dr. Laurie Santos, PhD, a professor at Yale University, whose course, “The Science of Well-Being,” has been seen by nearly 3.5 million viewers since it went online in mid-March, cites research showing that relationships are a vital part of self-care, for example, buying gifts for others yields more happiness than buying things for oneself. The Well+Good article provides several links to online groups you can join to link up with like-minded people.
But how do you cultivate rich, meaningful, supportive relationships?
“What most people really need is a good listening to.” – Mary Lou Casey
One of the best and most caring things we can do for each other is to listen in times of need. Deep, authentic, friendships are impossible without it.
But being a good listener isn’t always so easy.
First of all, it means letting go of distractions, settling in and making room in yourself to focus on experiencing something new—the world as seen through another’s eyes.
Then, when someone opens up it can be uncomfortable.
If a friend expresses strong feelings, especially painful feelings, it can rip us open and expose hidden feelings of our own; it can provoke judgments and strong opinions about what our friend should have done or should do, even what they should be feeling; it can make us anxious because we feel inadequate.
Being a good listener means being able to tolerate this discomfort and calming ourselves enough to put our own feelings aside for the moment to allow our friend and their feelings to occupy center stage.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is rushing in to offer advice before the person has had a chance to fully express themselves. We usually do this to try to put an end to our own discomfort!
It may help to keep in mind that it isn’t our responsibility to solve our friend’s problems; what’s being asked of us is to care enough to be there and listen so our friend can fully express themselves. Often this will lead them to their own solution to the problem at hand, or they may ask for our advice after they’ve had a chance to fully “air things out.”
Newsclips recently posted an article on “Welcoming Difficult Feelings,” with ideas from psychologist Abby Seixas on how to befriend feelings. Getting comfortable with our own feelings is one of the best ways to develop the patience to stay with a friend as they explore their feelings.
Offering to “reflect” your friend’s feelings can be very helpful. In reflecting, you simply state what you heard them say back to them, without comment or embellishment. This helps your friend feel heard and also gives them a chance to deepen their own experience and perhaps clarify it further.
That said, you can make lots of listening “mistakes” and still be just what your friend need you to be at that moment: someone who cares about them, someone who accepts them warts and all, and someone whose loyalty and heartfelt good will they trust.